Digital dial-a-ride could arrive in Essex amid bus reforms

A woman wears her mask on a bus; Inset: Uber.

Essex County Council has published its bus plan which includes a digital DaRT, which it says will act like UberPool in London - Credit: PA/Archant

An UberPool-style bus service could arrive in north-west Essex within five years.

Essex County Council wants to transform its demand-responsive transport (DaRT) system which currently operates in Uttlesford, Braintree and Maldon by creating a minibus booking app for rural communities.

The service, which the council says will feel like Uber's car-sharing platform in London, is part of the council's Bus Service Improvement Plan (BISP), which has been handed to the government.

The government will consider the plan and could allocate a portion of its £3 billion bus improvement fund to Essex.

The BISP, produced by councillors Kevin Bentley and Lee Scott, reads: "We want to create a new paradigm for how bus services are delivered in Essex."

The report notes that 55 per cent of Essex's rural residents don't have access to sustainable transport options.

It adds: "We do not want to produce a plan where those with bus services see improvements, and those who have nothing still have nothing."

The plan earmarks £81m to provide a sustainable service, including digital DaRT, in "all of Essex's transport 'deserts'".

A map of north-west Essex, near Saffron Walden and Great Dunmow, with DaRT coverage marked in purple

The county council currently funds three DaRT dial-a-ride buses in north-west Essex - Credit: essexbus.info/Archant

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But the plan notes that, although Maldon's DRT scheme is "run well", the Uttlesford and Braintree schemes have been "less successful".

The report notes: "There are perception issues, with services being viewed as for older people, putting off customer age groups."

Cllr Ivan Henderson, leader of the council's Labour group, said: "The DaRT schemes are quite good.

"But we need to incentivise bus travel for young people by introducing passes, regulated timetables and fare controls.

"We can do that by through franchising agreements, like in London."

Cllr Jamie Woods is chair of Sampfords Parish Council in Uttlesford.

He said: "The stops in our village aren't served by a regular bus.

"I suppose the issue lies with commercial viability, but anything which helps villagers, including the enhanced DaRT, should be welcomed."

The council said the current DaRT phone-in system would remain live, even if online bookings are introduced.

Alongside the digital DaRT, the council hopes to create a "cohesive" bus brand for Essex and make bus routes in market towns more "commercially viable" in future.

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